This follows the death of 13 workers, with another 17 injured, in an explosion at Angang Heavy Machinery, partly owned by the Anshan Iron and Steel Group, one of the three largest steel producers in China, on 20 February.
The Angang incident occurred when a mould in one foundry exploded near the end of the casting process showering the plant with molten iron and concrete, killing ten people instantly.
Given the importance of the state-owned Anshan Iron and Steel Group in the local and regional economy, the provincial government in Liaoning immediately took charge of the rescue effort and the investigation into the cause of the accident.
China’s major state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are often upheld as bastions of good work practice in China, offering higher wages in safer working conditions than the smaller scale private enterprises that are usually blamed for China’s poor work safety record. However, as the Anshan accident demonstrates, today’s profit-driven SOEs are still a long way from being able to claim that they really put safety first.
Huang Yi, spokesman for China’s State Administration for Work Safety, told the Beijing-based Economic Observer in May 2010 that one third of all the safety equipment at key state-owned coal mines, for example, is obsolete and in need of replacement. He pointed out that although the government allocates around three billion yuan each year to upgrading mine safety, significantly more funds are still needed.
Moreover, Huang said, very little emphasis is placed on worker training and making sure employees understand the risks involved in their work, and although Chinese law does allow for heavy fines of up to two million yuan to be imposed for safety violations, Huang said such fines are very rarely, if ever, imposed.